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118 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997 N OTES1. Patrick Hanan, "The Nature ofLing Meng-ch'u's Fiction," in Andrew H. Plaks, ed., Chinese Narrative: Critical and Theoretical Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 87.© 1997 by University ofHawai'i Press Kenneth J. DeWoskin and J. I. Crump, Jr., translators. In Search ofthe Supernatural : The Written Record. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. xxxvi, 283 pp. Hardcover $39.50, isbn 0-8047-2506-3. This is the first complete, Western-language translation ofthe Soushenji ÍÜÜÍ$lE, the largest extant, pre-Tang collection ofdescriptions and narrations of"strange" phenomena known generically as zhiguai xiaoshuo ~&%4^ or "accounts of anomalies." The Chinese work is unproblematically attributed to the fourth-century historian Gan Bao, although, as can be said ofalmost every Chinese text from this period, the text has undergone numerous deletions, additions, rewritings, and rearrangements between the fourth century and the present. Zhiguai works, most ofall from this earliest period, have long suffered a bad press. Literati in traditional times disdained their contents, and some modern scholars have scorned fhem as being ofscant literary value. What little attention they have had in this century—until very recently, at least—has been directed to demonstrating their status as precursors ofthe later "birth offiction" in China. In the West, Kenneth DeWoskin, in his important 1974 Columbia University dissertation and a subsequent article, has been the primary representative ofthis influential view, and the Introduction to the present work gives no sign that he has changed his mind. Other scholars in recent years have argued that the Soushen ji and similar works are better seen as exemplifying a documentary, evidentiary mode ofpersuasive writing.1 The work under review here does not address this alternative point ofview. In fact, except for the citation ofThomas E. Smith's excellent 1992 University ofMichigan dissertation on a particular group ofrelated texts2 and the mention ofrecent textual editions, the authors give little sense of what impact, ifany, the scholarship on zhiguai done since the early 1970s has had on their understanding of the genre. Nevertheless, this book offers a competently prepared, highly readable translation prefaced by a short introduction—not an interpretation of the genre or even, for that matter, of the Soushen ji—and as such is a quite welcome addition to the relatively sparse scholarship on a rich and unjustly neglected body oftexts. Reviews 119 I wish to respond here selectively to a few ofthe specific points made by the translators in their Introduction, and then to comment briefly on a few features of the translation itself. In the Introduction, the authors suggest that the Soushenji and other works ofthe zhiguai genre were part ofa newly private mode ofwriting—"the result, in narrative form, of the decline of Han orthodoxy, which had until then shackled both prose and poetry to the State and its concept ofliteracy as service to the government " (p. xxv). I wonder how tight those "shackles" really were. For one thing, it would probably be possible to cite examples of Han writings—especially poems—that did not concern officialdom at all. For another, the authors' language here suggests an intellectually totalitarian regime when, in fact, what probably drove most ifnot all writers to write, both during and after the Han, was the quest for recognition ofliterary ability and the social status—and, frequently, the official appointment—that such recognition often entailed. There is, in my opinion , little reason to think that writing about such "private" matters as spirits, family , wine, or even one's desire not to serve the government (as was common in the third century) was in fact divorced from or unrelated to the perception of the authors ' place in society; and, given the mechanisms of official appointment in place during these centuries, thatperception, in turn, could lead directly to an administrative post. The authors' separation of "official" concerns from an interest in the spirit world might be too clean. After all, the spirit world, as the zhiguai themselves reveal , worked as an elaborate bureaucratic system, yet a system complete with all the all-too-human foibles ofthis-worldly bureaucracy. During the same centuries that saw the writing ofthese many tales, Taoists were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 118-121
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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